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Open Letter: SHS hijab debate, religious freedoms and Muslim leadership front

Sat, 10 Apr 2021 Source: Ismail M. Kailani

Open Letter On Second Cycle Ghanaian (Female) Muslim Students: The Covering Of Hair, Worshiping Other Than Their Religion, And The Muslim ‘Leadership’ Front.

I have observed with keen and profound interest the discussions of the aftermath of the denial of a Rastafarian boy (two boys) and two other siblings admissions at Achimota SHS and St. John’s SHS respectively, all in Greater Accra Region.

There were other related events of denial of a Muslim female admission due to her hair scarf (religious hair cover— Hijab). All these events did not happen in vacuum.

Subsequent to these happenings, the Muslim front specifically led by some identifiable and well-coordinated youths embarked on a series of engagements, key amongst which was discussion of the issues on television and radios, writings on various print media, strong social media presence and activisms, and the huge of it all was the rightful civil action of a protest and peaceful demonstration.

What we have realized was the effect of a government communique that made it unlawful to not allow a female Muslim in any profession not to Don her religious scarf (hijab). Just like in any civil activity or civil rights movements, the moment the steam dies off or cools, the ultimate intent and momentum ceases.

This was the sad reality of the great efforts, time, resources, planning, coordination, organization, and strides our brave energized selfless youths sparked some time past. T

he question to ask is “Have there been any time in Ghanaian Muslim’s past happenings, of a single momentum that advocated for a rightful Muslim cause and shook the core of the establishments?” I stand to be corrected, because my answer is a BIG NO. If you in the affirmative, let’s discuss your YES further with concrete proofs, better particulars and debate.

In Islam, EDUCATION is a lost treasure of a Muslim believer which has to be salvaged once found. Meaning, Islam places so much importance and emphasis on the seeking of knowledge such that, seeking knowledge is made compulsory and incumbent on every Muslim: male or female.

To the extent that, the first five verses of the Noble Qur’an to be revealed to the whole of mankind and humanity through our beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh-Peace Be Upon Him) is about seeking knowledge by the use of pen: Qur’an Chapter 96, Verse 1-5 (Suratul Al-Alaq, the Clot).

There is a parable of a person of knowledge is equal to a person with no such knowledge, the answer is explicitly known to us all. A person with requisite knowledge is more or less above a person with no such relevant knowledge.

Islam is imperative about the seeking of knowledge: the sole purpose of creation is to worship God Almighty (Allah) only, however knowledge is a requirement and a prerequisite to worshipping God Almighty (Allah) satisfactorily in Islam.

This further illustrates the value Islam places on education. Philosophical, the pen of a knowledgeable person (scholar) is mightier than the sword of a fearless courageous warrior?

Education seems to be explained to mean the process of transforming the Character, Behavior, Attitude, and Personality of an individual by equipping the individual with requisite sets of Knowledge, Skills, Training and Character.

The key words for consideration are: knowledge, skills, training and character. It is usually argued that once you miss out on any of these four, literally you have missed out on education in its true and universal essence?

The question to ask is “Does religion equip an individual with these set of requisite and relevant knowledge, skills, training and character?” I respond in the affirmative. I think religion shapes, guides and instill its followers or adherents with sets of knowledge, skills, training and character relative to their beliefs and practices.

Let me revisit the aftermath of the current issues of the denial of the Rastafarian wards admission to further their education in the second cycle of Ghana’s educational ladder. One point the Rastafarian parents and wards kept drumming on was “the refusal to deny or not allow the Muslim females to don on their scarfs or cover their hair (hijab)”.

Deliberately or in-deliberately, it added impetus to their arguments and granted an appeal to equally marginalize so called minorities in the country.

Though the Rastafarian community (the parents of the children) in Ghana vowed to leave no stone unturned in ensuring their right to their religion/belief is protected under the constitution of the country, they indirectly couched the support and assistance of the Muslim community in Ghana and the international community especially the African diaspora community wishing to settle permanently in Ghana.

They also had one powerful voice, respected and articulated mouthpiece, and strong leadership sense to clamor for their rights in the country. They gave all indications they would test the enshrined constitutional provision that guarantees our rights of worship, association and identifying with a religion.

They argue the right to religion (association) is an inalienable right that surpasses any other provision contained in any regulations or rules?

Surprisingly, if not for a sizeable number of individual Muslims who have taken the issue of covering of hair and not to be forced to worship against a student’s will (religion), yet it was perhaps not to be seen nor heard of any Muslim institution take up the challenge with the vigor, courage and assertiveness it requires.

Amongst the few names I have come to observe that have taken up the mantle to speak on behalf of the innocent Muslim female students in the wake of the Rastafarians debacle are: Imam Abass of metro TV/police mosque, Khalifa of Peace Media Dawah, Journalist Umaru Sanda of Citi TV/Radio, some enthusiastic young Muslims and considerable Imams.

Indeed, Khalifa of Peace Media Dawah has been to a named school to authenticate the veracity of Muslim students not allowed to pray and denied access to their Noble Qur’ans. Khalifa of Peace Media Dawah went further to engaged the counsel of lawyers on how to ensure the enshrined rights of the Muslim students freedom to worship is protected and guaranteed.

Imam Abass of Metro TV intermittently releases short but relevant write-ups on the issue of Muslim students to be allowed to worship freely and with no prejudice. Umaru Sanda of Citi TV/Radio in the wake of the Rastafarians ordeal has shared his thoughts on why Muslims should be allowed to don their hijabs in earnest.

Enthusiastic and vibrant young Muslims have equally shared their frustrations with the system of education in the country marginalizing ‘Muslim’s worship and beliefs’ extensively on various social media platforms such as: Facebook, WhatsApp and others.

Few Imams shown interest and spoke at length about the Hijab and other plights faced by Muslim students in their search for knowledge in the second cycle educational ladder of the country. The fact of the issue is, no person of a well-meaningand rightful thinking society will weigh the refusal of Muslims to wear their Hijab and forced to worship as ‘just and fair’.

There is a saying that “only a fool washes his/her lining in the public”. Nonetheless there is also a saying that “if you don’t make your sickness known, you won’t get medicine for healing”. In light with this, I strongly advocate for ENGAGEMENT as the way forward.

Engagement in the following with wisdom, reconciliatory talks (tone) and excellent interpersonal relationships: Individual Approach, Family Approach, Community Approach, Institutional/Association/Acquaintances Approach, Chieftaincy Approach, Circuit/District/Metro/Regional Imams Approach, Chief Imam and Office of the Chief Imam Engagement.

These approaches or engagements should not be seen as absolute and final. However, it is a means to getting our issues lessen or bettered for us. God willing (In Shaa Allah).

Individual Approach comprises our capacity as a person with excellent coexistence with other faiths and beliefs. What we showcase to them might be bought as the wholesale of Islam and our religion. In our individual capacities let’s strive to live and abide by the Islamic virtues and morals of respect, love, patience, integrity, compassion, discipline, humility, forbearance and calmness.

This is especially important for our brothers and sisters of school going age. They should be well brought up to be the good ambassadors of Islam and reasons for well wishes to be accorded Muslims of all walks of life in the country and beyond. We should all be highly disciplined and very principled in our day to day activities and personal interactions.

Family Approach basically enlightens the family as the single unit of society building. Society can be built on solid and good morals or on weak and bad vices.

Muslim families should imbibe in their offspring’s and children Islamic values and ethics of: peaceful coexistence, good moral upbringings, tolerance for one another, sense of togetherness, patriotism, good assurances and behavior, love and care for all, truth and sincerity. With such Islamic family virtues and values, families from other faiths can relate freely and support one another once such virtues or values is threatened.

This is the sense of togetherness and selflessness we advocate for all to be allowed to identify with their religion with no fear of victimization or prejudice. In Ghana we are inter-related either with marriage, lineage, strange happenings, good neighborliness or the strong blood of national cohesion and tolerance for our distinctive differences.

What I have learn over the years is that, learning to ACCEPT each other’s FAULTS and choosing to CELEBRATE each other’s DIFFERENCES is one of the most important KEYS in building a HEALTHY, GROWING, LASTING and PROSPEROUS relationships in LIFE (this world).

Community Approach is to ensure at our various communities in the country, we freely worship and identify with our religion. A grown up non-Muslim man once confided in me and disclosed that, NIMA is the most peaceful and tolerant community in the whole of Ghana.

I was bemused and asked him why? He explained “It is the most heterogeneous society where you can find basically a representation of all tribes, religion, sects, denominations, ages, walks and diverse backgrounds yet you hardly hear of any fight or disturbances (upheaval)”. I instantly concurred and thank him for giving the flip of the coin of positives of NIMA we rarely hear.

In local parlance we refer to NIMA literally as the “Belly of the elephant: whatever you come forth with, we will outweigh and outsmart you”. There are lot of positives about Nima and Muslim communities (Zango) in general that it’s eulogy and praise is palatable in the wisdoms of elderly non-Muslims. Be objective and have an unbiased mind, engage any of your elders on Muslim communities, you would be amazed of goodies and positives you would be endowed with.

A non-Muslim elderly man once also confided in me that “He finds it unimaginable how Muslims can be with a fetish (traditional) person and they can live for ever and ever in peace, however the same can’t be said of other faiths?” Muslims make the best, biggest and longest acquaintances.

A Muslim will go to any extent to ensure you are not cheated. Such scenarios is countless in Muslim dominated communities. Truth will set you free in Muslim societies.

With the ‘Institutional/Association/Acquaintances Approach’, in any space or time we find ourselves in, be proud and stand tall to identify and associate with your fellow Muslims.

Muslim institutions should relate with non-Muslim institutions and sell to them the beauty of Islam and its teachings. In any association or place of work you find yourself, let Islam be seen in you. Any wrong or bad impression you give is seen as a representation of Islam and Muslims, kindly be mindful.

No doubt, Muslim have the best and many relished acquaintances. Muslim institutions have to be seen in the realm and thick of issues confronting Muslims. Institutions like Baraka Policy, Ghana Association of Muslim Professionals, Ummah Initiative, GMSA, COMOG, IIT Ghana, and others have a lot to do in closing this gab.

Chieftaincy Approach is one of power and authority. Chiefs and kings traces their source of authority to their subjects (their people and area) and largely have voice of influence amongst themselves.

Muslim chiefs should add their voice to the issues and call out with a united front (voice). The chiefs should collaborate and cooperate with other chiefs of influence to tackle these issues dispassionately and decisively.

I believe once our chiefs gunner the support of other paramount chiefs, they can forge forward in the spirit of solidarity and sense of purpose to ensure students are not forced to worship other than their religious accepted worships.

Our Circuit/District/Metro/Regional Imams can help a great deal in ensuring our students find comfort, ease and serenity in studying and performing their prayers. Is astonishing the stature and nature of persons our Imams are privy to?

It is my plead that, our Imams will tap into the stature and nature of persons they are privy to, to advance the issues of Muslim students in Ghana.

Imams serving as Imams for various circuits, districts and other levels can equally use their personalities to influence a comfort in any form for the students to freely practice their religion.

Chief Imam and Office of the Chief Imam Engagement, is the highlight of this write-up. In that, chief Imam of Ghana: His Spiritual Highness His Eminence Sheikh Imam Doctor Osmanu Nuhu Sharubutu is a household reverend name. Chief Imam carries weight and grandeur beyond the borders of Ghana.

Chief Imam’s awe, charisma, grandeur and astounding personality beckons respect and acceptance by all. He has this wider appeal and genuine acceptance that we can all count on and urge his office to tap into. The National Chief Imam of Ghana and the Office of the Chief Imam should respectfully (humbly) find the following recommendations worthy to act on:

1. Initiate and have an open dialogue with the Christian community. By the Christian community we mean the: Christian Council of Ghana, Charismatic Churches of Ghana, the Catholic Churches, and other denominational representatives or associations.

To discuss religion, values, ethics, standards, principles, commonalities and space to allow Muslim students practice their religion. Understandings, compromise, reconciliations and agreements can be signed and communicated accordingly.

Specific schools of interest that appeared in the limelight for having genuine challenges with Muslim students should be attended to as case of urgency. A visit and meeting should be held to discuss at length what the way forward should be.

2. Engage national institutions like: Ministry of Education, Ghana Education Services, Peace Council, National House of Chiefs, and other (educational) civil society organizations.

They should lobby the government of the day through these institutions on how to bring finality to periodic standoff issues in oursecondary education sector on Muslim students (females) covering their hair and not to be forced to worship other than their religion.

3. Engage the Parliament especially the Muslim caucus in parliament to advance the issues for a lasting solutions to the challenges Muslim students are facing in their second cycle education. Parliament is the house that passes law or legislations, and have a huge stake to play in ensuring the fundamental human rights of Ghanaians is respected.

Let’s lobby all parliamentarians on moral grounds, appeal to their conscience, and forge forward with the Muslim caucus to ensuring our rights is adequately protected.

In same vein a petition can be served the legislature for it to be debated in the house to add seriousness on our plead for freedom of religion and not to be forced to worship other than our religion.

4. Engage the Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service only for an input into the intended standardized policy guidelines for admission regulations and rules for senior secondary schools in Ghana.

The Chief Imam, office of the National Chief Imam and all Muslims groups should be concerned and show undivided interest from the point of formulation of the policy to the decision making and implementation stage.

Let’s not be taken by surprise and not be consulted for an input in the policy guidelines to secondary schools. We have a stake in the policy guidelines, hence we should guard it with tooth and nail in ensuring our inputs is well captured.

5. Engage the Ministry of Attorney General and Justice. In Ghana, the ministry of the Attorney General and Justice is the legal representative of the people of Ghana and the government at large.

There is the need for the office of the national Chief Imam to engage the Attorney General and Justice ministry to seek its advice, guidelines and blessing on assisting to ensure Muslim students are not forced to worship other than their religion and are guaranteed the liberty to don on their hijabs with laid down guidelines (standards).

6. Engage the Political Parties in the country, parties form governments in power. The office of the national Chief Imam should engage the major political parties, for example the NDC, NPP, and others.

Get the political parties to commit to making issues of Muslim students and workers a necessity by capturing it in their manifestoes, and such commitments to be granted once they come to power. Let’s bargain with the political parties and hold them to accountability with pledge (commitments) they struck with the Muslim community.

7. Engage The Judiciary and Bar association (judiciary council and secretary) by appealing to them to see reason to uphold the constitutional rights of all citizens and act appropriately in any determination of the law with respect to Muslim student’s right not to be forced to worship other their religion and to oblige with the religious obligations of covering their hairs.

Though I do not support legal redress or litigation as optimal way out of this quagmire. I believe all alternatives should be fully exhausted and further exploited before legal redress can be considered. Yet I consider legal redress as the last resort.

8. Engage the Media Houses, Print Media and Social Media Platforms. The national Chief Imam and the office of the Chief Imam should keep in touch with the television stations, radio stations, graphic and printing houses, make use of Facebook, zoom sessions, and other equally mass messaging channels to lobby the interest of Muslim students to cover their hairs and not to be forced to worship other than their religious practice.

They should involve the entire Muslim community in this from the beginning and keep them up to date with successes chalked and challenges to be surmounted. Let the community own and feel part of this initiative.

With this reality, the entire Muslim communityand people of rightful thinking (conscientious-objectors) will feel part and parcel of this strive, and will be proud to contribute in any way possible in seeing to the accomplishment of the objective afore-hand.

9. Engage the (incumbent) Government and President of the day. The National Chief Imam comes in handy in appealing to the highest authority of our land to uphold the rights of Muslim students and direct a lasting solution to be found.

Let’s engage the seat of the President and the Presidency. The Chief of staff, office of the Vice President and other machinery of the executive arm of government should fully be exploited. I strongly believe, finality and lasting solutions can be found with the presidency to safeguard and guarantee the rights of Muslim students in Ghana.

Most times it bits my imagination that, a community like Mamoobi-Nima with an institution like Accra Girls SHS have not created a cordial rapport between the school and the Muslim community. By now there should have been a well-established relationship of the school liaising with the Muslim leadership, and the vice versa.

Such that, any complaints of stubbornness or serious foul on moral grounds can be partly handled by such Imams. To the effect of that, the Imams are called on to periodically give word of advice and inspiration to the Muslim students. Same can be said of Adenta and Madina Muslim communities (leadership/Imams) failure to create a special bond and chemistry with WASS SHS and PRESEC SHS respectively.

Sadly we can go on and on with such lists, Achimota SHS and St. JOHNS SHS are classical examples of where the Muslim front (leadership/Imam) have woefully failed in having (establishing and maintaining) a cordial relationship as a stakeholder to be considered as such by these notable schools and institutions.

The spark that has been awakened with the Rastafarians wards denial of admission should be seen as a blessing in disguise to the Muslim front to reactivate fully our concern for our Muslim female students to be allowed to cover their hairs at all times and in any moment of their stay in school.

We should as well press hard for our children not to be allowed to engage in any form of worship other than their own religious practices. The current Minister of education is a cool, matured, vast experienced, has a sound judgement, a reasonable and smart brain (person).

Let’s engage him fully and make open our humble requests with dignity, reasoning, intelligence and much humility. The time for the Muslim front (leadership) to act is now: make hay whilst the sun shines.

Writer is a Social Activist and Advocate, a Community Volunteer and a Concerned Patriotic Ghanaian and can be reached via kailaniismail@gmail.com

Columnist: Ismail M. Kailani
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